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August 30, 2007
Transaction of the Day
Placed RHP Jair Jurrjens on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation); recalled RHP Zach Miner from Toledo (Triple-A). [8/26]
Losing Sheffield really takes far more spring out of the Tigers' stride than just deleting his offensive productive, because he's being swapped out for some combination that yields playing time to Ramon Santiago (with Carlos Guillen playing first and Sean Casey at DH), a ghastly combination made worse by the club's sudden diffidence over whether or not it should really have Cameron Maybin up already. By itself, the latter isn't a bad thing-send him down, play Marcus Thames in left, and make do. But it's the idea that they're also having to replace Sheff, which means at-bats for guys like Santiago and Timo Perez, that's the sort of boost the Indians would never be so rude as to directly request from the Central's second-place team.
As if the Tigers didn't have enough bad news, losing Jurrjens before Kenny Rogers is ready to come back means another start for Chad Durbin. They lost all three of the games he led off on the mound earlier in the month, as he didn't come anywhere close to posting a quality start. While shutting Jurrjens down for the time being might seem aggressive under the circumstances, though, it's a worthily altruistic choice to not risk the kid's career. But coming on top of Andrew Miller's getting pasted in his first game back, and the equally valid concerns about pushing him too far, it isn't hard to envision a September where the drama in the AL Central dwindles away to nothing in no time flat.
Optioned LHP Sean Henn to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); recalled RHP Chris Britton from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [8/28]
Now that's interesting-the Yankees punted carrying a lefty, going into a series against the Red Sox, and knowing that David Ortiz goes from being a monster against right-handers to Mark Loretta against lefties. Papi's at .278/.359/.399 against southpaws this year. Joe Sheehan used to suggest that a large part of Papi's rep for late-game greatness had been the unwillingness of AL managers to find their Rick Honeycutts and erase a .600 SLG, but Ortiz delivered against lefties in 2005 and 2006, helping beat the platoon rap garnered over his previous years as a regular. Now, it seems to be an issue again, and the Yankees don't have a guy to attack Ortiz with late in games. While Henn made this a relatively easy call by giving up 17 runs in his last three appearances, the real question is whether this means that Ron Villone's a lock for the postseason roster, or if the Yankees might try to work something out and add a lefty reliever in the next three days. Britton's a good reflection of why a lefty-free life can generally work out just fine over a six-month season-his solid slider/fastball mix works well enough to keep both righties and lefties honest-but I guess I'm still wondering about the possibilities come the ALCS should these two historic rivals have to face one another. If the Yankees lose a postseason game because they don't have a lefty with any tactical/situational value, they'll get flogged for it long and hard, in print, on sports radio, and perhaps in the Boss's office.
Noted the departure of RHP Esteban Loaiza via a waiver claim by the Dodgers; purchased the contract of RHP Colby Lewis from Sacramento (Triple-A). [8/29]
This is a wee bit of a surprise, at least to me, because I've long been of the opinion that given how silly the market for starting pitching has been since the term "Benson money" entered the lexicon, that they'd have been better off shopping Loaiza or Blanton in December or January, on the off chance that it gets them a prospect with some value. Instead, it looks like there won't be any shopping of Blanton, and the A's went for payroll flexibility.
Does ditching Loaiza this way make much sense? I don't see how. The fig leaf that they want to look at Dallas Braden and Dan Meyer is all nicely optimistic. Add in a probable appreciation that Leonardo DiNardo's a solid commodity, and that somehow they'll get a something or somebody named Rich Harden to deliver on the fourth, really expensive year of his four-year contract. That seems like a lot of overlapping maybes and wishcasts to me, and doesn't balance too well against the potential value a starting pitcher with a track record for relative success signed for two more years for $14.5 million might be worth to any shopper disappointed or limited by what's in play during the winter silly season.
The other, perhaps more genuine defense that isn't money-related would be any uncertainty over whether or not Loaiza can pitch thirty starts or more per year in those two seasons, because he's been hampered by injuries in each of the last two. That's a more reasonable suggestion, one that most teams, checking his records and putting him through a physical, might weight pretty heavily before deciding to offer something or anything of value in a trade. I have no inside info on the subject, so this is just me saying it out loud, but if Loaiza's recent fragility might have diminished his relative value, to the point that the A's might have been asked to pay some part of his salary in a deal, that would obviously represent a rationale for why they might just skip to the chase and try to unload the full amount-in which case, mission accomplished. If Loaiza delivers two seasons and 60-68 starts for the Dodgers, then the gamble blows up in the faces of Billy Beane and his staff.
Which brings us to the real factor in play-the money. The money saved just isn't going to go that far by itself to help them out with their shopping needs this winter. Although they'll be out from under the money owed to Jason Kendall and Mike Piazza, almost $13 million total, and presumably won't re-up Shannon Stewart (not for only a $1.5 million base at any rate), contract acceleration ramps up their compensation to this year's people already under contract for 2008 by more than $12 million. This doesn't really leave them with major money to throw at the reliable fourth starter that they can't count on Harden to be, or at a center fielder because they can't count on Mark Kotsay, or to acquire a bullpen arm of any serious stature. The sort of money we're talking about certainly isn't going to buy them Aaron Rowand or Torii Hunter, assuming for the sake of argument that they're buying their own story about Meyer and Braden.
This isn't bright, but what's actually dopey is referring to Loaiza's deal as Billy Beane's worst. That's just fundamentally ignorant of Beane's history, the risks that go with signing pitching, and the market forces that change from year to year. Besides, there are better candidates-have we so quickly forgotten the three-year deal given to Mark Redman, or the money prematurely thrown at Terrence Long, long before he was eligible for arbitration? At least with Loaiza there was reason to believe he was a top-shelf starter, and in light of today's compensation structure, a mid-rotation starter making $7-8 million isn't quite the boondoggle we might have once anticipated. Hell, from current events, the far worse decision was granting center fielder Mark Kotsay a two-year, $15 million extension, and at this point, that $9 million still due to shortstop Bobby Crosby through 2009 isn't looking so hot.
There's something about that point in time when you learn that your heroes are great, but that they're also something less than perfect, and that's certainly come up a fair amount in relation to the analysis community and its hopes and wishcasts for all things Oakland. For me, it's sort of like recognizing that while Daft Punk's pretty sweet, LCD Soundsystem is even better, even if they've got Daft Punk on a pedestal. Falling short of the lofty expectations of on-demand genius doesn't mean that Billy Beane suddenly got dumb or that he's any less effective as a GM; the fact of the matter is that the world of baseball management isn't populated by cardboard cutouts any more than it is anywhere else, and a more ferocious competitive ecology makes it just that much more difficult to contend on the cheap if everyone with money's relatively bright too.
So, Soriano's back, and that means grim things for Matt Murton's playing time, but again, what we have is the possibility of an outfield where Soriano mans left ever day, Jacque Jones and Cliff Floyd get most of the playing time in center and right, respectively, and Craig Monroe and Murton spot for the regulars against lefties and give Soriano off-days as needed. Murton might be the guy who really gets jobbed, since there's still that expectation that he's not a good right fielder, and while that's true, he's also not Keith Moreland, and if the club's willing to make allowances for Floyd (with zero assists from right, and not for want of opportunities), you'd have to hope they'll cut Murton some slack and play him there. And Felix Pie? That whippersnapper's started once in the last two weeks, and while he reached base twice and scored a run, I mean, c'mon, like that matters. (Sigh.)
While we're left pondering which guys' arm is the raggiest from among the Cubs' non-Monroe options in right, I'm wondering whatever did happen to all that talk about Soriano's "great" arm? I suspect we're left with the same thing as last year-he throws really well for a left fielder, allowing runners to take an extra base on a base hit only 18.7 perecent of the time against 22 percent for all left fielders, but people are still willing to test him, and sometimes he's going to do something brilliant, and sometimes he'll blow it. So the man isn't Jesse Barfield (or Andre Dawson in his prime, as Cub fans might more clearly remember the Hawk), and they're stuck with an odd, interesting problem, where they have a guy who can throw well in left but perhaps only left, and guys who can't throw well in right. It's a little thing, unusual because it goes against standard operating procedure, and if I happen to agree that it's the right call, it's interesting in how it might hurt or help in a particularly tight series, should a ball be rattling around in one corner or the other, and a runner from first decides to dig for third or home.
Thanks to Bil Burke for data research assistance.
Optioned C-R Geronimo Gil to Colorado Springs (Triple-A); recalled C-R Chris Iannetta from Colorado Springs. [8/26]
So, Iannetta's banishment to the PCL of almost three weeks comes to an end, and he showed that he can still hit, not that hitting at Colorado Springs seems to require much more than a heartbeat, and .296/.397/.407 really doesn't tell us much; he drew walks-seven in 63 PA-and didn't hit for power, and continued to struggle terribly against southpaws (.125/.222/.250 at Colorado Springs, .086/.273/.171 in The Show). That's a weird thing to see in a young right-handed hitter, but I suppose there's also the good news that he gunned down three of the six guys who ran on him. The unhappy situation from the past is still present-he'll still be backing noted sub-mediocrity Yorvit Torrealba, perhaps at least until the Rox are out of the race, at which point the Rockies might finally get serious about themselves instead of about the fiction that Torrealba at-bats and contention are somehow connected conceptually.
As for the rotation, with Thursday's off-day, imminent roster expansion, and Aaron Cook's probable return from the DL sometime soon, Morales didn't really have much claim to his roster spot after three relatively unimpressive starts. He'll be back, of course, and unless Elmer Dessens runs off a few more quality starts, he should get another crack at starting once the season winds down. So, in itself, the demotion really doesn't mean anything. Morales isn't even out of consideration for the postseason roster, on the off chance that the Rockies are still a factor-he's still in the organization, after all, and assuming the Rockies tab casualties like Rodrigo Lopez or Zach McClellan as token postseason roster players, they'd give themselves the freedom to stock their spots as they wish at month's end.
I'm not sure it's a season-saving pickup, but it's pretty close. The club's 4.5 out, and risking five September starts on Eric Stults, or on trying to rush Randy Wolf back, or even turning back to the ongoing nonsense about Mark Hendrickson...these aren't the things the Dodgers can afford. What they can afford is to flex some financial muscle, and if there's no better way to keep the player development team happy while also pleasing the McCourts, then congratulate Ned Colletti for finding that middle road. Colletti found a way that gave him an experienced, veteran starter of some ability who represents an immediate upgrade, stepping right into the front four, and nobody, nobody should be upset with how he pulled it off.
Add in that by today's rates for a starting pitcher Loaiza's is a relatively modest salary to take on for next season ($7 million), and that he has an equally affordable option ($7.5 million), and this might be a better move for 2008 and 2009 than any move Colletti makes for those seasons. This also has the added advantage of reducing David Wells to a more probationary role with the club, which allows them to ditch Jumbo should he keep giving up two baserunners per frame, and turn back to Stults without asking the impossible from one of the injured, or taking another spin with Hendrickson. I can't quite call it genius, because all that was involved was a willingness to spend other people's money, but this was a very, very good move for the Dodgers, and one of Colletti's best actions yet.
Activated C-R Paul Lo Duca from the 15-day DL; designated C-R Sandy Alomar for assignment. [8/26]
So, they're out of the DiFelice Zone, even if the journeyman did about as well as could possibly be expected. Statistically, you might also expect this to be some sort of boost to the Mets on defense as far as deterring the running game, because setting aside Sandy Alomar's throwing out the three men who tried to steal on him-all with Orlando Hernandez on the mound, no easy feat-Lo Duca's been the Mets' best-throwing catcher, cutting down a little more than a quarter of the opposition's attempts. He's also had the benefit of drawing almost all of the assignments when Tom Glavine's on the mound, which makes a pretty massive difference; Glavine has historically done a great job of deterring the running game. So, while Ramon Castro has suffered the indignity of seeing 26 of 28 attempts against him called safe, it's worth noting that he's had to catch more than his share of El Duque or Oliver Perez starts, and while that presumably delivers some sort of linguistic comfort zone, it means that he's left in a situation where he has to catch a veteran who's historically more from the Nolan Ryan School of Baserunner Indifference, plus a wildcat lefty with command issues. That's not entirely fair, but like the passed ball totals for guys who have to catch knuckleballers and guys who don't, the stats themselves only capture discrete events, while not really telling us all we really need to know about a guy's actual abilities.
Anyway, I'm sure this will be a good thing for the lineup, but that's obvious. Similarly, getting Endy Chavez back probably means the reduction of Shawn Green to a glorified pinch-hitting role, with Chavez and Lastings Milledge splitting the playing time in right field. While that demotion's overdue, it wasn't Green's fault that so many people were hurt or rapping or whatever, and what really matters is that the Mets seem to have sorted out the right players in the right roles. Having Green as a lefty bat on the bench isn't the worst thing in the world, and if Willie Randolph can manage to keep Milledge fresh with frequent work while also getting Chavez back up to speed, they'll be in great shape come October.
Designated RHP Brian Sanches for assignment. [8/26]
So the lineup's back to it's best set-up, and the rotation gets the mixed benefit of having Eaton back; add in the likely return of Cole Hamels this weekend, and that makes for a rotation with J.D. Durbin squeezed out, with the veteran trio of Eaton, Jamie Moyer, and Kyle Lohse lined up in front of rookie Kyle Kendrick. That's actually not too shabby for this team at this stage of the game, especially for all of the drama surrounding this club's problems with its original sextet of starters.
For me, the really interesting thing about the Phillies for the moment is that they're actually only at 38 players on their 40-man. In part, that's a product of having four hurlers on the 60-day DL, saving them space, but those moves were already old news-what's new is that they added those two extra spots not by transferring people to the 60-day DL, but by dumping Sanches and Branyan. Sanches is understandable; he's just organizational fodder. But ditching Branyan strikes me as an especially odd decision, especially considering that the club doesn't have a lefty pinch-hitter of note, and given that they're all of one player deep at the infield corners-subtract Greg Dobbs, let alone Ryan Howard, and the Phillies wind up with some pretty massive casting problems, and go from engaging underdogs for a third year running to something more like the Twins' National League cousins, a team that handicaps its bid for relevance and October action by blowing the little stuff. Add in the nothing that they're predictably receiving for their decision to give Jose Mesa one last try, and you really have to wonder if the mania for seven-man staffs didn't just end up costing the Phillies a multiplying effect's worth of runs, for those added on the pitching side despite the commitment of the roster space, and the danger they're in for their decision to forego Branyan's contributions.
It would be fair to say that since ditching David Wells, the Pads still haven't sorted whether or not they really had a Plan B for their fifth starter's slot, and the depth that really seemed like a team strength in the spring seems to be gone, albeit with less drama and noise than has happened in Philly. That fifth slot's going to roll around again on Friday, with the alternatives seemingly reduced to Wil Ledezma out of the pen or Jack Cassel coming up from Portland; Mike Thompson, Hensley, and Stauffer all seem to have decisively pitched their way out of favor. Cassel lives and dies on his success in generating groundball outs instead of overpowering people, but at least he has relatively sharp command, issuing only 2.1 unintentional walks per nine with the Beavers, against 6.7 strikeouts.
Given that they've now got little or no reason to count on Hensley, Stauffer, or Thompson, I guess turning to an organizational soldier like Cassel is what they're left with. Still, for as clever as the Pads were at the deadline in shoring up their roster, they seem to have still flubbed this one spot, and in the abstract, I'm really at a loss as to why they couldn't have done something as straightforward as placing their trust in Hensley-a huge factor in their making the playoffs last year-from the moment that they ditched Wells. Lurching from one option to another from one week to the next is really no substitute for the information that both scouting and performance analysis should place at the front office's disposal. The professionals are paid the big bucks to make the tough calls-Kevin Towers has managed to skip making this one for almost two weeks now, and while roster expansion might permit the Pads the leisure of being able to choose from any one of their options in September, there's something galling about their inability to identify who their best option is.